In the studio

‘Fantastic Voyage’ was recorded with the working title ‘Portrait Of An Artist’. The backing track was, as with all the Lodger songs, recorded in September 1978 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland.

There are mandolins on ‘Fantastic Voyage’ – Carlos, Adrian and I sat like three Italian barbers playing rapid tremolo throughout the song.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Vocals were overdubbed towards the end of the month, and it was mixed – with a handful of late additions – in March 1979 at the Record Plant’s Studio D in New York City.

Maybe a week after ‘Fantastic Voyage’ was recorded, David came in and announced he had written lyrics. He got in front of the microphone and I immediately said to myself, ‘Oh God, it’s such a beautiful song’. Minutes after he’d finished the lead vocal, he called me into the studio to sing the backup vocals with him. I noticed that the first two chords of the song were the same as the first two chords of ‘Love Me Tender’ by Elvis. Instead of strings, it called for mandolins, playing like a string-section of violins. So we borrowed some mandolins from a music store in Montreux and Carlos Alomar, Adrian Belew and myself – we could all play mandolin – played my little arrangement. You can hear ‘Love Me Tender’ if you listen closely to the mandolins, just for a bit. Then the third chord is not in ‘Love Me Tender’ anymore, so we stopped playing that motif. I remember, when I was a kid, there was an arranger called Mantovani who would have these huge string sections; he had a big hit in the ’50s called ‘Charmaine’. Another arranger, comedian Jackie Gleason, did the Mantovani sound with forty mandolin players doing violin parts, and that’s where I got the idea from. David knew about Mantovani and Gleason, too. I mean, it was such a romantic-sounding song, I thought, ‘Why not have mandolins on it?’ It didn’t sound Italian in the end. It just sounded beautiful.

Although Tony Visconti said that the chords of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ were similar to Elvis Presley’s ‘Love Me Tender’, guitarist Adrian Belew suggested a connection to a different Presley song.

There was one song where we all sat and played mandolin parts and triple tracked that – which was an arrangement that Tony Visconti had come up with. After I was put through the mill I was allowed to sit down and watch the magic happen. I remember Visconti saying that it’s a single mandolin melody being played essentially by nine mandolin players in unison. And I said, ‘You realise this is from an Elvis melody? In there there’s a bar of an Elvis melody, ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’.’ And he sheepishly grinned.
Adrian Belew
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)

The release

‘Fantastic Voyage’ was the first song on Lodger, which was released on 18 May 1979.

In April 1979, ahead of the album, the ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ single was released in Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ was the b-side in all countries. The same single was issued the following month in France and the Netherlands, and in Japan in July.

In June 1979 ‘DJ’ was issued as a single in the USA, Brazil, and Canada, with ‘Fantastic Voyage’ on the flipside.

RCA released David Bowie’s 1977 duet with Bing Crosby, ‘Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy’, as a single in November 1982. The b-side was, once again, ‘Fantastic Voyage’.

Live performances

Although released in 1979, David Bowie did not perform ‘Fantastic Voyage’ live until A Reality Tour in 2003.

The first performance was on 19 August 2003 at The Chance in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was performed a total of 23 times during the tour, the last on 2 June 2004 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT, USA.

A recording from Dublin in November 2003 can be heard on the album A Reality Tour, and seen on the DVD of the same name.

Bowie’s final live appearance was on 9 November 2006, at the Annual KCA Black Ball for Save A Child charity event at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. He performed ‘Wild Is The Wind’ with Mike Garson, followed by ‘Fantastic Voyage’, during which he was backed by Alicia Keys’ band. The final song of the night was ‘Changes‘, a duet with Keys.

Lodger remix

The 2017 box set A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982) contained two versions of Lodger – a remastered version of the 1977 release, and a more recent remix by Tony Visconti.

A remix of Lodger had been discussed by Bowie and Visconti for many years, although work commitments hadn’t given them the opportunity to properly revisit the multitrack tapes. That changed ahead of the David Bowie Is exhibition, which opened in London in 2013 and contained a mashup of Bowie recordings created by Visconti.

The subject of remixing Lodger came up many times over the past decades, but we could never agree when to begin. We had very busy parallel lives and when we talked recording it was always about the next studio album. For the making of the 15-minute mash up used in the March 2013 Bowie Is… exhibition, I needed many multi-track masters of albums from the archives, including Lodger. We were also putting finishing touches on The Next Day. David left the making of the mash up to me. With both projects overlapping, the idea of remixing Lodger remained dormant.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

Visconti created an initial remix during a break in the nine-month period in which he and Bowie worked on the Blackstar album. The period contained several breaks, which were too brief to allow Visconti to embark upon production work with other artists, so he turned instead to creating a remix of Lodger’s opening song.

I decided to make a start with ‘Fantastic Voyage’, to plumb the sonic depths of what I had to work with. The separated tracks sounded very well recorded – the first time I’d heard them this way since we mixed in New York all those years ago. I was assured that if we mixed in a high end studio at the time Lodger could have sounded every bit as good as Scary Monsters. So I commenced on making a new aural landscape for ‘Fantastic Voyage’. I wouldn’t tell David until I had something impressive to play to him. If the difference was minimal then I wouldn’t waste his time. ‘Fantastic Voyage’ turned out really great, but I felt that three impressive remixes would stand a better chance of piquing David’s interest.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
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